Delegates from around the world will descend on Rio de Janeiro, this week for a major United Nations meeting on the environment. Dubbed "Rio+20," the event, will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first “Earth Summit.”

But, you might say, didn’t 15,000 or so of these same bureaucrats and environmental activists gather at another world class beach resort—in Durban, South Africa— just six months ago to discuss more-or-less the same issues? Why the need for another meeting so soon?

Good question.

The largely redundant Rio meeting provides the perfect occasion to reassess American taxpayer support for several “Green” non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have been undermining US policies and priorities for well over two decades.

Under the rubric of “Corporate Social Responsibility” many Green groups have asserted that companies have “triple-bottom-line” obligations. This theory insists companies must deliver (1) economic, (2) social and (3) environmental “returns” to justify the theoretical “license to operate” granted to them by society.

One Green NGO, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), will promote its “Report or Explain” policy in Rio. It demands that private companies “report their sustainability performance or explain why if they do not.” GRI wants governments “to provide regulation [emphasis added] and policy that promotes this kind of innovation and creativity.”

In other words, GRI wants even more onerous and expensive legal requirements loaded on businesses.

Another powerful Green NGO travelling to Rio is the glamour-laden World Wildlife Fund. Its board members include actor Leonardo di Caprio and Hollywood’s new chief lobbyist, former Senator Christopher Dodd.


WWF is pushing to redefine economic growth. According to WWF Director General Jim Leape, “We need Rio+20 to deliver new environmental indicators so that we can measure what we treasure. We need indicators that go far beyond GDP, measuring environmental quality, nature and biodiversity, and social stability and wellbeing.” WWF also wants to change the way economic growth is measured so that the “value of natural capital…is included in national accounts and corporate balance sheets.”

At the original Rio summit in 1992, just months after the collapse of the Soviet empire, WWF representatives argued that “free market capitalism will not solve the world’s environmental problems.” Despite evidence to the contrary—nations with free markets have the highest environmental standards in the world—WWF has used this assertion to carry out a 20 year assault on markets and free trade.

Both GRI and WWF call for a global “green economy” and propose several mechanisms to control and manipulate innovation, commerce, and trade.

For starters they want all tradable goods “certified” to ensure they meet “sustainability” standards. Those standards, of course, would be set by these very same groups. That would give groups such as WWF tremendous influence over the global trade of commodities such fish, paper, cocoa, tropical woods, beef, palm oil and more.

Indeed, last week in Washington, WWF partnered with the Consumer Goods Forum to urge major Western retailers to procure only “sustainably-sourced” palm oil. The utilization of these standards will raise consumer costs and hurt small farmers throughout the world who need unencumbered access to markets. In fact, denying small producers access to world markets would well lead to more environmental damage and increased poverty than would leaving them alone – hence the insidious nature of WWF’s calls for certification.

To add insult to injury, American taxpayer money (through USAID) is occasionally given to some of these groups. And agribusinesses in the European Union have used pressure tactics by WWF and other green groups as camouflage to protect themselves from foreign competition.

GRI and WWF are warning their donors that the Rio+20 Summit might fail. But given the anti-growth agenda they will promote there, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

James M. Roberts is research fellow for economic freedom and growth at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for International Trade and Economics.